Five things you should know before choosing A-levels

  • Emma Finamore
  • Last updated 01 Dec 2015

It's a pretty big decision but don't worry: we're here to help.


So you’ve decided to stay in fulltime education after your GCSEs and take A-levels. Congratulations! Here’s a handy list to help you make those all-important decisions: what subjects to choose.

1. You might need specific A-levels

Certain university courses will be looking for specific A-levels; the same goes for other great options like school leaver programmes, Degree Apprenticeships and Higher Apprenticeships, all competing for the brightest, brainiest 18-year-old school leavers.

If you already know what you want to study, or the programme you want to start, then check out the full entry requirement details, to make sure you’re ticking all the boxes.

2. Taking certain A-levels will keep your options open

You want to go to uni but don’t know what subject  you want to study yet? Keep your options open by selecting a smart mix of the most commonly asked-for subjects in university entry requirements:

- Biology

- Chemistry

- English

- Geography

- History

- Maths

- Modern and classical languages

- Physics

Some universities discourage students from taking certain combinations of A-level subjects, for example when subjects are very similar like business studies and economics, so bear this in mind when you're making your choices.

3. A-levels are a lot tougher than GCSEs

Most people base their A-level options on one (or more) of these scenarios: you need it to pursue a particular career; it’s a subject you enjoy and are good at; or it’s a subject you’ve not studied before but you think will suit you.

Either way, be prepared for a big jump in the level of difficulty when you transition from GCSE to AS-level (or any other Advanced level qualification for that matter). You’ll also see differences in the way you’re taught and in what is expected of you.

4. Some courses have lists of subjects they don’t accept

Particular courses – take, for instance, an architecture course at the University of Bath – will view certain A-levels as less effective preparation for university studies than others. Similarly, some universities list which A-level subjects they prefer. Others have specific ‘non-preferred’ subject lists.

5. Do your research

Don’t take everything you hear at face value – a bit of research could reveal something quite different!

Let’s say you think you’ve got no chance of getting on to a super-competitive law course at the University of Durham because it doesn’t accept psychology A-level. Is that really the case?

A university may view you differently from another candidate based on other factors such as extra-curricular interests or your portfolio.

First, take a look at what the university has to say. In this case, Durham Law School proactively states on its website that “we do not make offers in respect of critical thinking or general studies, but we are otherwise unconcerned by the subjects you take”.

Find out what universities really think about A-levels in media studies, law and general studies. 


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